For better or for worse, we live in a world where many more things are openly spoken about and discussed. Yet somehow, some very painful and important topics remain taboo—and an infectious taboo at that—where people tend not to even mention their pain, afraid of the bomb-like effect it will create, its ripples tearing them apart yet again.
One of these topics is miscarriage. Sometimes, the doctors will call it a spontaneous abortion. However it is phrased, these words carry loads of unspoken emotions and pain never spilled. Pain…which is instead collected in some secret holding space in our heart, our empty arms unable to caress, our body unable to nourish. We women are a resilient race; we are strong beyond measure, but also weak and gentle and oh-so-sensitive in more ways than one. I guess that’s what it takes to be a conduit, a channel through which Hashem chooses to bring life into the world. Both the channel and the creation which came forth—or which never did—are forever altered by the experience of the carrying or miscarrying—life that is and life that will not be.
I have had 5 miscarriages. Five lives that never were, and five times that I was not able to become a vessel, that life didn’t flow through my body, but stale blood and physical remains were expelled instead. I am forever thankful that I have beautiful children at home who need me, who lovingly call me Mama and whom I am so blessed to hug and nourish and take care of—and even scream at sometimes. At the same time, the pain one experiences when she miscarries is real, and it doesn’t depend in the least on how many beautiful children await her at home, or how many lovely souls this particular mother will be able to be the channel for in the future. The pain of the moment is existential; it’s all encompassing and truly heartbreaking. Just as my heart grew with every single child I birthed—or was lucky enough to love and whose life I was able to participate in—just as certainly, my heart broke every time I carried-not.
Here is what I learned during my years experiencing loss.
First and foremost: You are not alone!! Many, if not most, women experience at least one miscarriage during their reproductive life. I spent years suffering in silent pain, but once I opened up about it, I saw that many of my friends could relate to this pain and were so supportive and loving. All I needed to do was open my heart, and I received more support and loving care than I knew what to do with…
We keep silent for a number of reasons. We are very secretive about our reproduction in general, and miscarriage is subconsciously viewed as some sort of failure on our part, which, of course, it is not at all! As women, we very often don’t want to share such private and painful information, and instead, we tend to internalize everything.
I wish to offer some advice to help with this: First of all, please, please confide in a friend or a loved one you trust. You don’t need to post your pain online if that’s not your cup of tea, but please share with someone who will offer support and love in your time of need. Seek out emotional support; don’t be alone at this difficult time.
The second point is to ask for help! I know there are many women like me who don’t ask for help—ever. I used to never, ever ask for help because I took it as a personal failure if I couldn’t handle everything. Life has taught me that I am human and that I live in a community of other human individuals, where help is a currency we use to show that we care about each other. It’s equally important to accept help when you need it as it is to offer help to others. No one is going to think “less” of you if you need help during or after going through such a physically and emotionally painful episode. Make a list of things you need, and don’t be shy to ask! People truly want to help, and they just need instructions about what is helpful for you!
Thirdly, do not expect your husband to completely understand what you are feeling. You are the one whose body carried and miscarried, you are the one who is bleeding or had the D&C (to remove leftover tissue from your body), and you are the one whose hormones are on a terrible roller coaster. Please do not assume that he doesn’t love you or doesn’t care or whatever else we tell ourselves when we are in pain and don’t feel validated. Most husbands have no idea how to help us, and for men, in general, help is a very hands-on matter. To “help” means to get our mind off of what is upsetting us, or to try to cheer us up by telling us how wonderful our other kids are, how lucky we are with x, y, z, etc. People in general—and men in particular—are not very good with validating painful feelings; they generally try to “fix” everything or to tell us how lucky we are to have what we do. Don’t expect that your partner will know the extent of your pain. Their bodies are not going through this; they are physically incapable of knowing how much you are hurting, even though most truly want to help.
My dear husband, who is an amazing individual, and a loving, caring, exceptional father, husband and partner, had no idea how to help me. He wasn’t sure what to say, and with the best intentions, he just said things that didn’t help at all and even annoyed me. Thankfully, I had a wonderful friend who gave me advice I will share with you, and that is—cut your partner some slack. He is trying his best (always assume best intentions, unless you are, G-d forbid, in an abusive relationship, then please get help ASAP), and he truly has no idea what to say or do to make things better. What I have learned to do is to sit my husband down and tell him, “When you are telling me X, the story I tell myself is Y. Is that correct?” Almost always, he tells me that what I have been telling myself is very, very far from his intentions, and that his intentions are almost always to make me feel better. So, please assume that your husband is trying his best, and maybe once you feel a bit better, help him learn your language of love and validation, and how he can best use it to make you always feel loved and validated. This is continuous work, so be patient.
My fourth and final point is please, when you are going through this nightmare, ignore all unhelpful and hurtful comments from clueless neighbors, friends, loved ones or doctors and other medical professionals. Being a doctor myself, it’s a bit easier for me, as I speak the “medical jargon”, but I’m sure for the average person, it sounds terrible to be spoken to in words you don’t understand at such a trying time, to say nothing of outright hurtful comments and remarks.
When I was going through a late miscarriage, which was a result of a really bad infection, I had some doctors on rounds tell me how “lucky” I was that I was miscarrying, as they had no idea how the infection would affect the baby, and why would I want a baby with potential “issues”? Their words were unkind, to say the least, and I didn’t appreciate their misplaced sense of concern. In fact, these horrible remarks were the last things I need to hear when I was mourning the life that was not to be. So, please ignore any and all hurtful comments. I don’t believe people want to be hurtful on purpose; they are just clueless and say the most unhelpful and ridiculous things at the worst moments—all with the best of intentions. I really try my best to appreciate their good intentions, and ignore the things they say. This leads us back to my first point, to please have at least one person who is helpful, validating and kindly loving when you need it most!
Above all else, when you are going through difficult times—and even just every day—remember that you are an amazing, strong, resilient creation—a gorgeous quilt of happy and painful pieces, sewn together with your laughter and your tears, to create a truly breathtaking masterpiece. May you always remember how strong and beautiful you are, inside and out! May we all share only good news, and may we be surrounded by loving people in our time of need!
A note from the editor:
This graphic was done by our very own Alyssa Goldwater, for a social media movement called #RealLoveRealLoss, on infant and pregnancy loss. Although this subject is a very painful one for me, personally, I felt it was important to join in the movement and post some of my own story, as we try to lessen the taboo around this topic, and give the support to those who are suffering in silence. Although the pain has changed form over the years, the feeling of loss never really goes away. I hope that by sharing my own experience, it will encourage others to turn for the help they need…without feeling shame. Here is my story:
In my writing, I’ve shared how hard it was to navigate having a sick child, and how scary it was when we almost lost him, our firstborn. What I haven’t shared was that he wasn’t really the first.
We got married younger than most of our friends, and I became pregnant a couple months in. I was so excited to be a mom, but knew nothing about the statistics of miscarriage. Nor did I know how to watch for the signs of it. I didn’t even know what proper maternal care was supposed to look like, as I had no friends who had gone through this life-stage yet. And the worst part was, because of all this, I didn’t have the support I needed.
When all of a sudden I stopped feeling nauseous, I thought I was just one of the lucky ones who would have an easy-to-manage pregnancy. When my care provider couldn’t find a heartbeat and I started worrying, she told me that it might just not be easily picked up yet on her Doppler. When I started spotting, she didn’t come right away, but told me that it sometimes happens. And so, I went along for weeks, thinking I was carrying my baby when the baby had never really been viable.
I don’t think I have ever really gotten a chance to grieve that loss. I had no one to turn to who could understand what I was going through. And I thought I was alone in this experience.
But I wasn’t. And I am not. As the years go on, I see that so many people I know have had similar experiences. That many of us are mourning the neshamos who didn’t make it all the way into this world.
The other two pregnancies may just have easily been passed off as heavy menstrual cycles…if I hadn’t been going through cycles of IVF and waiting on tenterhooks for a viable pregnancy, testing at every chance I got. But even if no one else knew about them, I do. They are opportunities that never materialized. Hopes that were dashed before they even really had a chance to get started.
As I write about these things I have never shared out loud, my hands are shaking. But this movement is so important, especially in our Jewish community, where so many people’s family sizes are being scrutinized and counted, and the pressure is enormous.
What about the loss? What about the shame involved in the loss? It is time to end the stigma. I thank all the wonderful influencers who have started this movement, and I may be scared, but I am proud to speak up and be a part of it.